I took four semesters of Spanish in college because I had to in order to graduate. I spent a lot of my pizza-and-beer money on tutors to get through those classes, and only passed that final semester because I brought donuts to the early morning final. That’s the truth. Donuts. For the whole class. It was worth it for the college diploma and the knowledge that I’d never have to face down another foreign language again. Until now.
Because I’ve moved to the Middle East, I’m expected to “hablo Arabico.” Okay, can we just stop right there? If I’m a complete wash out in Spanish, a language that is tied to really good food and is practically the second language of the State of Texas, how am I expected to learn Arabic? I’d have better luck opening a snow cone stand over here!
Every week our Arabic tutor, an extremely tolerant man from Egypt who couldn’t possibly be paid enough to take on this Herculean task, comes to our house to try and teach us a language that is just a smidgeon less difficult than Mandarin Chinese. After two full years, all I got out of Spanish was the ability to order a couple of beers and find the bathroom. Usually in that order. But they don’t have beer over here, so I’m trying to just learn other basic survival phrases, like “Help me!” “Do you speak English?” and “Hey, does your camel bite?”
I really am making an honest effort to learn, so I make flashcards with everything written the way it sounds. Then when I want to ask the man at the fish market, “How much is the squid?” I can just pull out the flashcard and mangle the pronunciation to the point that I say who knows what and the fishmonger just gives me whatever I point at to make me go away.
In all fairness, I have learned the word for “yes,” which is pronounced “nom.” Like the noise the PacMan makes: nom nom nom nom. And no is simply, “la.” Lalalalalala is not just for those times when you don’t know the words to the song, it’s now great for the times you don’t know the words to anything! Now how do you say, “Where can I find a good burrito in this country?”